Rob Hefferon ’18 is among the select few to win this year’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. The $30,000 stipend enables the Spanish and political science major to spend a year traveling the globe and examining important societal issues as they relate to coffee. Williams Magazine caught up with him before he headed overseas.
I view coffee as having the potential to be an empowering force, to lift people up and bring them together in community. But in many ways, it is instead used as a tool of inequality and separation.
Where will you travel?
My project aims to visit countries all along the supply chain. I plan to start in the Netherlands at the World Coffee Expo and then visit Tanzania, Panama, Colombia and Japan.
What do you hope to learn?
I hope to look at ways that power imbalances within and between countries cause the dynamics I mentioned earlier. My goals are to understand the coffee system better and to use this [opportunity] as a lens for exploring my place as a privileged, global citizen. Whether I end up working in coffee in the future or something else entirely, I’m looking forward to seeing how this year can build my communication and planning skills while deepening my understanding of these issues that are tied up in—but go far beyond—coffee.